Determinants of plant establishment success in a multispecies introduction experiment with native and alien species.
Determinants of plant establishment and invasion are a key issue in ecology and evolution. Although establishment success varies substantially among species, the importance of species traits and extrinsic factors as determinants of establishment in existing communities has remained difficult to prove in observational studies because they can be confounded and mask each other. Therefore, we conducted a large multispecies field experiment to disentangle the relative importance of extrinsic factors vs. species characteristics for the establishment success of plants in grasslands. We introduced 48 alien and 45 native plant species at different seed numbers into multiple grassland sites with or without experimental soil disturbance and related their establishment success to species traits assessed in five independent multispecies greenhouse experiments. High propagule pressure and high seed mass were the most important factors increasing establishment success in the very beginning of the experiment. However, after 3 y, propagule pressure became less important, and species traits related to biotic interactions (including herbivore resistance and responses to shading and competition) became the most important drivers of success or failure. The relative importance of different traits was environment-dependent and changed over time. Our approach of combining a multispecies introduction experiment in the field with trait data from independent multispecies experiments in the greenhouse allowed us to detect the relative importance of species traits for early establishment and provided evidence that species traits - fine-tuned by environmental factors - determine success or failure of alien and native plants in temperate grasslands.